Mississippi Civil Rights Museum exterior.”

December 9, 2017; New York Times

Surprising few, President Donald Trump refused to bow to the pressure of boycotts and protests coming from many, including such civil rights icons as John Lewis, and attended the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on Saturday. Surprising many, he stayed on message in his speech, given to a small, private group in a ceremony that was separate from the larger public opening.

The president’s remarks were brief and praised the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, singling out many by name and acknowledging the importance of their struggle and sacrifice.

In typical Trump verbiage, the president said, “The fight to end slavery, to end Jim Crow, to end segregation, to gain the right to vote, and to achieve the sacred birthright of equality—that’s big stuff. Those are very big phrases, very big words.”

As the president took pains to stay on message, others pointed to the reasons why he was the wrong person to deliver a civil rights message in the state of Mississippi. Speaking of the many times that Trump had failed to speak up for civil rights causes, Amos Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco said, “Since Donald Trump did not show up when we need him to speak a word on behalf of blacks who have experienced police brutality, he does not deserve to be in Jackson for the celebration of the Civil Rights Museum.” Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, who indicated his full support for the museum but chose to stay away from the opening and participate in the protests when he was told that he was not to be given time to speak, stated, “I would be sitting behind Donald Trump, not saying anything, looking like or appearing as if I was complicit with his representation in a moment like this.”

For this president, keeping the focus on civil rights and those who led the struggle is no simple task. He managed to get the names right and deliver well much of the time. But, in case any were concerned that a body double had been sent to Jackson for this event, there came a moment when he gave in to his displayed tendency to shift attention to his own accomplishments. It came as no surprise when the president thanked the people of Mississippi as a state where, he said, “I’ve had great success.” That’s the kind of Trump-focused language we expect.—Carole Levine